I asked 50 geospatial leaders about success. Here’s their advice

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been contacting leaders around the geospatial industry to find out what they believe it takes to be successful. This is to help inspire postgraduate students on a business and leadership training programme I’m delivering at two UK universities.

So I asked ca. 50 leaders in my network one simple question:

“As a leader in the geospatial industry, what would you say is the single most important thing to achieve success?”

Who are they?

I polled 55 people and received 43 responses (78%) – not bad for busy people (thank you). The respondents include 25 senior executives/managers (58%) and 18 entrepreneurs/business owners (42%).

They represent a wide range of age groups, organisations, and geographies, across the geospatial lifecycle. Of those who responded, the gender balance is 44% female vs 56% male.

The responses have been striking – which is why I now wanted to share them more widely in the hope that they might inspire you too 🙂

Everybody is unique

As responses came in, the first thing that struck me was that they were all very different. In a way this is not surprising, as no two people are alike. But it does illustrate that leadership is a very personal thing.

This even begins with the meaning of “success”, which was deliberately left open in the question. Some respondents read it as success in business; others defined it as success in their career, life, or growth as a person.

Spatial is not special

Not many leaders offered advice that was specifically geospatial in nature. Again, this is what I expected, but it was remarkable to see the passion – and compassion – for people shining through in the responses (rather than tech or data).

A few leaders did highlight the need to understand technology trends or invest in data, but they were a small minority. There is no right or wrong here but, as far as leadership is concerned, spatial is certainly not very special!

It’s a people thing

The common thread, of course, was about people. For example, the importance of building positive relationships. To listen and understand. To be humble and always learning. To treat people with empathy and respect. To be bold and brave. To have passion and resilience. To make people fly.

But also, to focus on the customer and their problem – not the shiny solution. Especially in the geospatial sector, which can sometimes be too focused on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’ and ‘why’.

Practical nuggets

Some people shared more practical advice for success. For example, don’t ruminate or research endlessly – just get started. Be disciplined with your time. Build a good team around yourself.

Someone else pointed out that leadership is about stepping up to take responsibility, rather than waiting to be given the “authority” to lead. If something’s broken, don’t wait for others to fix it!

And a seasoned board director recommended travelling as a means of broadening your mind and learning to appreciate diversity in people. That’s not the kind of advice you’d find in a Harvard leadership manual.

Finding your voice

Several people commented on the need to define your own version of success — not someone else’s, as that can lead to unhelpful comparisons.

Others talked about embracing your insecurities: when you first step up as a leader, it’s quite normal to feel like an imposter. You are not alone!

(This reminds me of a conversation I recently had with the former CEO of a large organisation. When I asked him what his biggest challenge had been as a leader, his immediate response was “confidence!” – it truly affects everyone.)

One person won the prize for conciseness with her two-word response: “Be yourself.” Indeed – because, as Oscar Wilde famously said, everybody else is already taken.

What is a ‘leader’?

A few people were surprised to be approached by me, as they didn’t see themselves as a ‘leader’. Sure, there are many more people I could have approached for this exercise. But for me, leadership is not about job titles or how many people you manage. And I wanted my sample of leaders to reflect a wider diversity.

For me, leadership is simply about stepping up and putting yourself out there. You may not conform to the stereotype of whatever you think ‘leadership’ is, but… if you bring people together to create something new and leave the world a tiny bit better, then you are a leader in my book. You may be a role model without realising it.

The full list of leadership advice

It’s impossible to do justice to the wide range of responses with this summary, so do check out the full list on my Google drive. You are welcome to freely reuse and share it under the Creative Commons license.

Many thanks to everyone who contributed. Please note I’ve removed people’s names because the list was originally intended for an internal course, and I hadn’t explicitly asked for permission to disclose names publicly. Having said that, I now prefer the anonymous version regardless. It means the list can be shared more widely, and it removes any form of bias where we may be influenced not just by what is being said – but also by who is saying it. So now we can benefit from their advice without restriction or prejudice 🙂

I hope there’s something in there to inspire you.